What is the goal of the Torah (Law) and why did God give it?

Chapter 1 (Introduction)

Being Jewish is not easy! Being a Jewish follower of Yeshua is even more difficult. As Jews, we have to deal with growing anti-Semitism worldwide. As Messianic Jews, we are often rejected by our own families. Spiritual leaders in the Jewish community tell us that we are no longer Jewish if we believe in “that man.” Within the Body of Messiah we are often misunderstood by our Gentile brothers and sisters in Yeshua who may not have a clue about our acute identity struggles, struggles which Gentile believers typically do not have to face.

The early Church wrestled with identity issues from a completely different perspective. Messianic faith was Jewish; the challenge came when Gentiles were added to the early Messianic community. The very first Church council (Acts 15) dealt with how Gentiles fit into an essentially Jewish faith and culture. They concluded that Gentile believers do not have to keep the Law.

But then what about Jewish believers in Yeshua today? Acts 15 assumes that we will continue keeping the Law. Paul goes out of his way in Acts 21:23–24 to prove once and for all that he “walks orderly, keeping the law.”1 Yeshua declares that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19).2 Our Messiah tells us to “do and observe everything that the scribes and the Pharisees tell us to do”—the Law along with the rabbis’ oral interpretation of it (Matt 23:2–3). Moses tells us the commandments of the Law are eternal (see, for example, Exod 12:14, 17, 24; 21:6; 27:21; 28:43; 29:9, 28; 30:21; 31:16).3 Case closed! Jewish believers, in obedience to our Rabbi Yeshua and our teacher Moses, and by following the example of Paul, must obey the Law as good and faithful Messianic Jews.

Though the logic of the previous paragraph is compelling, we are still faced with a big interpretive dilemma. Why? Because as clear as those passages we just mentioned may seem to be, other passages in the New Testament lead us to believe that we are no longer “under the Law.” For instance, the apostle Paul tells us the Law was added to earlier promises made by God, not to replace those promises, but simply to guide us as a tutor, who will lead us to the Messiah (see Gal 3:1–24). But now that the Messiah has come, we are “no longer under a guardian” (Gal 3:25). In addition, Paul says, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16–17). The writer of Hebrews makes very clear the fact that Yeshua’s priesthood necessitates a change in the Law, since He is not a descendant of Aaron, and not even from the priestly tribe of Levi: “When the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also” (Heb 7:12). He goes on to tell us that the system of worship prescribed by the Law is a copy and a shadow of better, more perfect things (Heb 8:5; 10:1), the goal of which is to point us to a better covenant, since the former covenant “disappeared” (became obsolete) with the making of the new covenant (Heb 8:6–13).4

A first step toward some kind of consensus on this subject involves humbly and honestly acknowledging that there would be no argument about the role of the Law among Jewish believers, if the issues were simple and straightforward. The fact of the matter is that interpretation is not a science, though we typically try to explain (and even explain away) statements in the New Testament contrary to our position. There will continue to be Jewish believers on both sides of this issue, who struggle to understand why those on the other side do not see the “obvious truth” in the matter.

We want to begin by expressing our genuine appreciation for healthy and respectful disagreement. We realize that not everyone will agree with what we have to say about the meaning of the Torah and the purpose of the Law in the Torah. Hopefully, however, it will be acknowledged that we would not have written this book if we believed that everything had already been said on the matter. We believe this book offers a unique contribution to the discussion.

Many people read the Torah through the lens of rabbinic Judaism, in which the Torah is understood to be a law book: to follow the Torah is to keep the commandments of the Sinai Covenant. We disagree with this common assumption. Rather, our thesis about the purpose of the Torah (Gen through Deut) is that it is an historical narrative, whose purpose is to lead Israel through the broken Law and beyond, namely, to the Messiah who, Moses assures his readers, will come in the last days. To be faithful followers of the Torah, in our view, is to believe in Yeshua!

We defend this thesis by looking at several key passages in the Torah.

We will look first at the Torah’s introduction (Gen 1–11) and conclusion (Deut 29–34). By looking at the Torah’s beginning and ending, we will see that Moses prophesied Israel’s future breaking of the Law and subsequent exile before they entered the Promised Land, suggesting that his primary purpose for writing the Torah could not have been to lead Israel to, but through the broken Law and beyond. We will also look at the account of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai (Exod 19:1 through Numb 10:10) situated between the Wilderness Narratives leading to (Exod 15:22–18:27), and then away from (Numb 10:11–36:13), Mount Sinai. We will see a direct relationship between the giving of the Law and a breakdown of Israel’s faith, the result of which was death (Rom 7:9–10). This textual data provides yet more evidence that Moses’ goal for writing the Torah could not have been simply to lead us to the Law, but rather, through the Law and beyond.

Finally, we will look at the passages in the Torah which speak about “the last days,” and argue that these passages reveal the ultimate goal for which Moses wrote the Torah, namely, to bring us through Israel’s breaking of the Law and to the Messiah in the last days.

After we argue our thesis, we must ask ourselves some difficult questions: Why was the Law given at all if God already knew it would not be kept? What are we supposed to do with the Law now, in that it continues to be inspired Scripture today—God’s word to us (2 Tim 3:16–17)? 5

 

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[1] All Scripture references (unless otherwise noted) are taken from the English Standard Version.

[2] Yeshua actually explains what Matt 5:17–20 means in the rest of the chapter. It is clear that people were accusing Yeshua and His followers of abolishing the Law. But, true followers of Yeshua have standards that go beyond the written demands of the Law; He raised the bar higher! For example, Messiah’s followers will keep the commandment prohibiting adultery, because they will not even allow themselves to look lustfully at a woman. It is quite evident by Yeshua’s teachings on adultery that Yeshua did not relax the commandments of the Law.

[3] It should be noted that the word typically translated “eternal” (olam) is sometimes used to express a lengthy, though limited, period of time. A good example of this is found in Jer 25:9. God says that He will make the Land of Israel an “eternal desolation.” Yet in Jer 29:10, God promises to bring His people back to the land seventy years later. In this case, olam refers to a period of seventy years. Therefore, one cannot argue that the Law must be kept eternally simply because of the phrase “eternal statute.”

[4] What does the author of Hebrews mean by “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “ready to vanish away” in Heb 8:13? Though some have taken the timing of the actual “vanishing away” of the old covenant to be future to the time of the writing of Hebrews, this does not appear to be the author’s point. The author is likely referring to the implications of the word “new” at the time when Jeremiah the Prophet wrote, “I will make a new covenant.” When Jeremiah called the covenant a “new covenant” (Jer 31:31) on the eve of the destruction of the first temple, he was saying that the “old covenant” was already becoming obsolete and “ready to vanish away” in his day. This suggests that the “old covenant” became obsolete and vanished when the New Covenant was made. We have purposely written “disappeared” and “obsolete” because that is precisely the point being made in the text: when the New Covenant was made through the shedding of Messiah’s blood, the Old Covenant disappeared and became obsolete.

[5] In other words, the Torah, all of it, is authoritative Scripture for the believer today.

 

Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar is a native Jewish-Israeli who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel (1984). Graduated with his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Israel College of the Bible (Jerusalem, 2009), his M.A. in Theology from Liberty University (2013) and is now pursuing his Doctorate with Dallas Theological Seminary. Eitan currently serves as ONE FOR ISRAEL's Director of Media & Evangelism. (From 2006 to 2013, Eitan worked for CRU, in which his roles included serving as Israel's VLM-SLM leader.)

Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.

Eitan is the producer of:
1) I MET MESSIAH (Jewish testimonials).
2) Answering Rabbinic Objections to Jesus.

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